May 9, 2002
E51 (Tang Center)
2 Amherst Street
is a prelude to the CMS-Communications Forum conference on globalization
and convergence, to be held Friday through Sunday, May 10-12.
The Forum will focus on some of the leading questions to be
explored in panel discussions and plenary conversations during
the weekend conference.
John Hartley is professor and executive dean of the Creative
Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology, Australia.
He is author of many books and articles on television and media
studies, journalism and cultural history including Popular
Reality, Uses of Television, Communication, Media
and Cultural Studies: The Key Concepts and A Short History
of Cultural Studies.
Schechter is the executive editor of the MediaChannel.org
and co-founder and executive producer of Globalvision, a New
York-based television and film production company. Schechter
is the author of Falun Gong's Challenge to China, The
More You Watch, The Less You Know and News Dissector:
Passions, Pieces and Polemics, and the producer and director
of numerous TV specials and films.
SCHECHTER recalled his career as a journalist and its relationship
to the concentration of media ownership. His career began in
1970 in Boston where he was known as the "news dissector"
on radio and television; he helped to start CNN in 1980; he
spent eight years with 20/20, the ABC magazine-format
news show featuring Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs; and, in
1987, he started Globalvision,
a New York-based television and film production company.
about 10 years ago media critic Ben Bagdikian put the number
of global media companies at around 50, Schechter said that
number has now been consolidated into about five-to-seven companies
that "control the media world."
of them are in the neighborhood where I work," Schechter
continued. "This is not an abstraction for me." Within
blocks of his Times Square office, he said, are Bertelsman,
ABC, Reuters, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch's offices and NBC.
am an ant in a field of elephants," he went onto say, "not
only trying to understand media in some academic way, but also
trying to survive as an independent producer in an environment
where you are under-funded and over-controlled."
the dwindling number of global media companies in relation to
the explosion in the number of channels available not only on
television but through the Internet and radio, Schechter said
we have "many channels and a tremendous lack of diversity."
to the consolidation of media production, Schechter mentioned
that many of the television formats created in America are being
exported - that broadcasters in other countries want to look
like CNN with their "suits and sets" and that creates
a further "narrowing of diversity."
was cloning program formats before cloning ever came to MIT,"
said that as a journalist "looking for a way to talk about
things not talked about in the dominant culture," his goal
is to "intervene to some degree to ensure more access,
a diversity of opinion, in an institution that is democratic
- in its spirit, at least."
of that effort, two years ago Schechter founded the MediaChannel
Web site that tracks, collects and analyzes news coverage from
around the world. He began the Web site working with twenty
news and news-watching organizations, he explained, and that
number has grown to over 1,000. The site gets about 3.5 million
hits per month, he said.
Schechter told the audience, "Why I came here tonight was
to suggest to you that this nexus of issues about media concentration,
freedom, and coverage are all at the heart of the democratic
challenge ahead. We must solve this problem to solve others."
HARTLEY offered a different perspective on globalization,
analyzing media from the consumer's point of view.
opening statement," Hartley said, "is to ask for as
much globalization as possible in this context." To make
his point, Hartley held up a recent issue of TV Guide
with the banner headline "The 50 Greatest TV Shows Ever,"
saying that all 50 shows listed were American. "We are
in a different environment when talking from the point of view
of the consumer," he explained. "We want more globalization,
asked who in the audience had ever heard of Charles Joseph Pancouke,
and no one raised a hand. Hartley explained that Pancouke owned
most of the newspapers in France during the French Revolution
and that "had taken the revolution to the countryside"
as the "Rupert Murdoch of his age."
He was eventually
hanged and few people have heard of him, Hartley said, "but
we remember the content of the period."
then asked about Fust and Schoeffer, and he got a similar response.
Fust and Schoeffer, he explained, caused Johannes Gutenberg
to go bankrupt and took control of his printing press. "The
point is," Hartley said, "that it is the Gutenberg
Bible we remember, not the firm that owned the press."
is relatively independent of ownership in times that matter,"
look at content instead of ownership, Hartley said, you move
away from the institutions that are organized around scarcity,
that are overly competitive and controlling, and toward an organizational
model built around choice, voluntary affinities, and customized
content for a region, identity, or lifestyle.
isn't scarce," he said. "It's plentiful."
Hartley said, the demand for content is not under the control
of the owners - new media technologies have made it possible
for anyone to create and distribute content globally - and therefore
content is not a unidirectional message from owner to consumer.
Hartley cited the growth of semiotics and literary critical
theory as part of a "drift in the location of meaning."
This academic interest in the way meanings are constructed and
de-stabilized helps us to conceive media content as involving
audience participation, voting and online feedback.
a political event," he said, "but what does it mean?
Call us and tell us. Who should be thrown off the island? Call
us and tell us."
said, "the public sphere is where we find meaning."
And this shift toward the audience as a source of meaning is
a distinctive feature of contemporary media culture.
a new relationship between consumers and makers: "when
the consumer is the center of meaning," media content will
be a collaboration, a partnership.
are currently going through an important historical change,"
he went on, "that has not shown its full implications yet
- the change of content from a read-only, one-way broadcast-era
model of communication to communication that is interactive,
that is both read and write."
I challenge John's assertion that content is plentiful. If you
have plenty of garbage where does that get you? Despite what
you said about globalization having been around for a long time,
here we are where Americans are told they made the 50 best television
This is the rhetoric of contempt for popular television. If
we say all stuff that is entertainment is crap and all that
is political is good, we are missing the point of television.
My point is that we need to start helping viewers to do more
with television then they thought possible.
I am not arguing that the great and the good are better than
some sort of entertaining program. You seek out programming
that's watchable and doesn't preach at you. But to suggest there's
this brave new world of content not affected by bureaucratic
institutions isn't real at all. You have to have a political
analysis as well as a cultural, and the two complement one another.
What are your ideas to foster media literacy?
I think my founding premise is that there has been a break in
intellectual culture and poplar culture. And one of the things
we need is to encourage greater attention by the intellectual
community. They need to get their ideas straight about what's
going with such things as the shift in meaning I mentioned.
One-sixth of the world is illiterate in a print sense. When
you talk about new media literacy, is that possible without
Yes, there is clear evidence that indigenous people in Australia
are becoming media makers through the use of these new media
technologies. These are people who would never open a newspaper.
If we say a sixth of the world is not print literate, it does
not tell us in what they are literate.
Media literacy is important, but you have to be careful: there
is the Channel 1 variety of media literacy in which kids have
to watch because the school is getting a free antennae or something
and they are seeing 6 minutes of ads for candy bars. But, if
you really want to get people engaged there are many ways to
Does the new technology really make the media more accessible?
Yes, I think some technologies make it possible to do some things
much cheaper than before, but we don't have those advantages
in terms of channels of distribution.
The cost of making television shows about rural and indigenous
people is now as low as radio. You can see the technology diffusing
and expanding in that sort of way. In Australia, the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation has pledged to create diverse programming
and they do it by giving video cameras to indigenous people.
Part of the answer to your question is to remember is that this
is not just about the large-scale stuff. Innovation at the margins
will make a difference.
by Brad Seawell
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